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The Kirkpatrick Pottery
Formerly of Anna, IL, in Union County
What has come to be known as the Kirkpatrick Pottery in Anna, Illinois began when two brothers - Wallace and Cornwall Kirkpatrick - fired their first kiln load of salt-glazed stoneware pottery in 1859. Over the course of the next quarter century this business would carve out a unique place in the American pottery industry as they turned out pottery as unique, and reflective of the times they lived in, as themselves. Today their surviving wares grace numerous museum collections and command premium prices from collectors.
Cornwall Kirkpatrick was the eldest of the two. Born in Ohio as the War of 1812 ended he grew up in a family of potters that restlessly followed the frontier westward. Cornwall worked in the family business for a number of years and then moved back to Ohio where he managed a number of pottery businesses. In 1857 he moved to Mound City - then being promoted as the new metropolis of the Ohio - where he invested his life savings in building a state-of-the-art, steam powered pottery business. Unfortunately the promoters were swindling confidence men and when the Mound City bubble burst the next year so did Cornwall's business.
The appeal of Anna
His younger brother Wallace was 16 years his junior. He was that rare breed of man who had the soul of an artist and the solid good sense and judgement of a shrewd businessman. In 1859 he moved to the recently founded village of Anna to open a pottery. He chose Anna because it had both good transportation (the Illinois Central Railroad had recently come through) and because the Illinois State Geologist's report noted the excellent beds of stoneware clay available in the county. Together with his brother who supplied the machinery for the works the two men formed a partnership and began manufacturing items in clay for the rapidly developing frontier.
While the State Geologist's Report noted the presence of fine clay beds in Union County the report failed to note their location, so the first wares were made from clay imported from nearby Grand Chain. Being the only large pottery in the region their business was an immediate success. But it took the brothers seven more years of searching before the legendary clay beds were found. In 1867 they were finally located and purchased by the Kirkpatricks who put them into immediate production. Over the course of the next half century the mines at what came to be called Kaolin (named after the type of clay mined there) would yield an estimated 500,000 cubic yards of what was arguably the best throwing clay in the world.
Cornwall apparently ran the day-to-day operations at the pottery, handled the shipping, filled the orders and managed the production and mining operations. Wallace was the business' promoter and salesman and was frequently on the road at fairs and exhibitions taking orders and demonstrating the superiority of their product for the consuming public. He was also a talented, self- taught sculptor and probably handled the design aspect of the wares.
The Kirkpatrick's "catalogue"
Unfortunately for historians, no physical catalogue survies of the brothers products. But The Kirkpatrick Pottery produced the usual utilitarian wares of their time: large mixing bowls, crocks, churns, stoneware buckets, table ware, canning jars, hand-thrown drainage pipe, all manner of jugs and literally millions of tobacco pipes, that were the bread and butter of their business. But they also manufactured numerous novelty items as well: aquarium furniture, tombstones, chimney pots, frog cups (cups with life-like frogs crouched in the bottom to surprise the unsuspecting drinker), decorative urns, stanhope viewers (small objects fited with an image on one end and a magnifing lens for viewing it on the other), flower vases and holders, and political ("Toby") cups which featured caricatures of famous politicians of the day.
As their business grew and became established they used their pottery's output to promote their take on the issues of their day by manufacturing large, commemorative bottles for regional events, so-called "Pig Flasks" - pig-shaped clay bottles depicting railroad routes throughout the midwest, and lapel-worn temperance flasks which had no bottom and were therefore unable to hold that horrible drain on society: Demon Rum.
The famous "Snake Jugs"
But the pottery's masterpieces were the "Snake Jugs" that depicted the evils of drink in a very graphic, realistic and sometimes humorous way.
Alcohol - and especially hard liquor - was the drug of choice for Americans in the late 19th century. It was the universal drink for all occasions ... like getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, at every meal, and for every conceivable toast or celebration thoughout the day. From the records of the time it appears that a significant fraction of the adult population in America in the last half of the nineteenth century spent their days intoxicated.
Wallace Kirkpatrick - like many of his fellow citizens - was alarmed by the turn the boozing populace was taking and actively worked for the abolition of all alcohol - a dream that would eventually be realized in the 18th Amendment to the Consitution and the establishment of organized crime. He was a fervent "temperance man" and joined the movement early on. His "Snake Jugs" were expressions of this belief and provide excellent proof of both his convictions and his artistic skill.
The Anna Kirkpatrick Pottery Museum
If you're interested in seeing some Kirkpatrick pieces for yourself, you're in luck - just visit The Anna Kirkpatrick Pottery Museum. It's located inside Isom's Antiques and Collectibles, 107 N. Main St., in downtown Anna Il. Mike Isom generouslly places pieces of his personal collection on display at the museum on a rotating basis, Tuesday through Sunday 10-5 and "Monday by chance."
For more information, call Isom's Antiques & Collectibles 618-833-3516 or 618-833-6160
Copyright © 2005 by Jim Jung and licensee. All Rights Reserved.